Life in African cities more expensive than San Francisco, Luxembourg, Brussels, Miami…

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Mercer, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc, is a leading global consulting and human resources firm. By virtue of Mercer’s multinational consultancies, it is equipped with “one of the most comprehensive databases on overseas staff transfer policies, wage and salary schemes and a global data on the cost of living, including rent and allowances. The firm has recently released a list of the most expensive cities in the world from the expatriate point of view. Among them are some African cities. But what impact does this have on common Africans?

In Mercer’s 2009 survey, Japan remains at the top of the most expensive cities in the world. Nothing surprising until… More than a handful of African are listed among some of the most expensive cities in the world. Douala takes the lead with Lagos, Abidjan and Dakar following in its tow. The Cameroonian city occupies the twenty-seventh place, while Lagos, Abidjan and Dakar are well ahead of the wealthy Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as well as San Francisco, Brussels and Miami, to name but only a few.

The comparison between African and European or even American cities is not in any case the most appropriate: The Mercer survey does not tell the absolute truth as it only focuses on expatriates – those sent abroad by their companies – to measure their purchasing power. But if we start from the fact that in a consumer society — such as Abidjan, Lagos, Dakar and Douala – what matters the most is not the amount of money made by a person, but rather what is spent, it becomes obvious that Brussels is less unfortunate than Dakar. Example: An employee in Brussels who makes 2000 euros per month and spends 1200 on his basic necessities is more fortunate than his/her counterpart in Douala or Dakar who makes FCFA 100,000 and is expected to spend it all, if not more, on monthly rents alone, without talking about health or transport costs. Kudos, thus, to life in Brussels, Luxembourg, Berlin, Miami and San Francisco! Or rather emigration! The inability to flee those expensive African cities leads many to cherish corruption — the immediate corollary of the high cost of living — to escape hardships. Is it not better to hold a position where bribes are readily available?

Globalisation, the hangman of African States

In a recent interview, Jean Ping, Chairperson of the AU Commission, accused privatization, the responsible factor in the freezing of African economies, under the backlash of globalization: An alarming but truthful observation. “Naming things wrongly”, according to Albert Camus, “is adding to the misery of the world.” Some African countries have already embarked on an unbridled liberalism that could soon see even streets on privatisation schemes, if it is not already the case.

A host of companies have international representations in Lagos, Douala, Abidjan, Dakar… As a result, rent has become unaffordable. A meagre civil servant salary’s is not enough to pay for decent housing. The average citizen has no choice but to take refuge in slums, despite all the harm it entails. The health sector has also been privatised, making it inaccessible to most and plunging life expectancy. Being a healthy 60 year-old, for the average citizen, is a blessing.

What is sustainable development? If African countries are incapable of addressing this issue, how do we expect people to be environmentally friendly without the backing of a “strong state”? “Strong” here does not signify a fearful state, but rather one that does not fail in its mission – health, affordable housing, school, etc.. And this is where Jean Ping was right: the inequalities that exist in Africa today are as a result of the absence of the State. The rich, the main beneficiaries of globalization, are getting very rich whilst the poor, with nowhere to go, grow poorer.

Another tragedy is the increasing level of logistics compounded with less productivity and more importations. For example, in Abidjan, meat for consumption is imported from Bamako, although the country has the means to produce enough meat for local consumption. Over-consumption with little or no production is a reminder of what caused the recent riots in the French West Indies …

High cost of living  In the past year alone, food prices have shot through the roof while other household essentials have undergone unprecedented price hikes. Coupled with a global financial meltdown, this situation has been mostly harsh on the poor. The Haiti food riots which began in April, 2008, quickly spread like wild fire to Egypt, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon... According to experts, this situation was in part created by careless government policies, the rising popularity of bio-fuels as well as the global financial crisis, among other factors...
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